Don Cornelius, ‘Soul Train’ host, found dead of gunshot wound

Reuters file photoDon Cornelius

Reuters file photoDon Cornelius

Don Cornelius, the creator and longtime host of “Soul Train,” was found dead this morning of a gunshot wound.

Cornelius was found at his Sherman Oaks home at 4 a.m. by officers responding to a reported shooting. The Los Angeles Times, citing sources, said the gunshot wound appeared to be self-inflicted.

Police told TheWrap the investigation was ongoing. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said Cornelius, who was in his 70s, was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai hospital.

As a journalist in the Civil Rights Era, Cornelius recognized the lack of a televised venue for soul music. The show he first aired on a low-power station in Chicago became one of the longest-running syndicated hits.

From the show’s debut in 1971, the always smooth Cornelius was the master of ceremonies for performances by a who’s who of soul legends, including Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, Diane Ross, Aretha Franklin and the Isley Brothers. Cornelius coolly presided over each episode’s party, interviewing guests in a soft baritone and occasionally displaying his own flawless moves on the “Soul Train” line.

Fashion was always a crucial part of the show: Older episodes offer a sweet and sometimes hilarious look back at 70s styles, from pastel bell bottoms to flowing vests and unapologetically endless collars. Cornelius’ dark suits and afro stand out not for embracing the occasional gaudiness of the day, but for their timelessness.

As it aged, Cornelius’ “hippest trip in America” also featured hip-hop acts, including DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and the recently departed Heavy D. But it struggled with how to balance the newer genre with the soul music at the heart of the program.

As a result, the show was sometimes criticized for being out of touch with audiences’ shifting tastes in the early ‘90s. The sketch show “In Living Colour” mocked Cornelius in a sketch called “Old Train” that suggested he could hardly remember his own name.

He added to the generational schism by calling for warning labels on albums with violent, sexual, or drug-related content, earning criticism from artists including Ice Cube.

Cornelius stepped down as host in 1993, and the show continued with other hosts until 2006. In 2008, he sold the show to MadVision Entertainment.

Cornelius told the Times in a 2010 interview that he was excited about a “Soul Train” movie he was developing.

“It wouldn’t be the ‘Soul Train’ dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project,” he said. “It’s going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show.”

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